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J Behav Med. 2002 Oct;25(5):438-67.

Effects of anonymity, gender, and erotophilia on the quality of data obtained from self-reports of socially sensitive behaviors.

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Center for Health and Behavior, 430 Huntington Hall, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York 13244-2340, USA.


This study examined the effects of anonymity, gender, and erotophilia on the quality of self-reports of socially sensitive health-related behaviors. A sample of 155 male and 203 female undergraduate students was randomly assigned to an anonymous and a confidential (i.e., nonanonymous) assessment condition. Gender, erotophilia, self-reports (of substance use, sexual behaviors, illegal activity), and perceived item threat were assessed by questionnaire. Data quality was strongly affected by experimental condition and gender. Thus, terminations were more frequent in the confidential condition and among women. In the confidential condition, women were significantly more likely to "prefer not to respond" to sensitive items compared to men. Both female gender and confidential condition were associated with lower frequency reports of sensitive health behaviors, and greater perceived threat of the assessment questions. Self-reported engagement in sensitive behaviors was positively related to both perceived question threat and erotophilia. Path analyses suggest that question threat mediates the effects of anonymity manipulations and gender on data quality (item refusal, termination), and that erotophilia mediates the effects of gender on incidence and frequency self-reports. The results indicate that anonymous assessments as well as male gender are associated with better data quality.

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